On air with flair

Tamara Stanners shares tales of her TV and radio stardom – and helping people get through their days

Tamara Stanners puts wood on the crackling fire in her Judd Road 100-year-old farmhouse. By the warm hearth, clutching a mug of steaming coffee, she tells me the story of a career that has taken her from eating meagre meals of potatoes to living in a Vancouver penthouse – and eventually to Brackendale, from which she continues to pursue her childhood dream.

Since she was six years old, broadcasting on radio was the only thing she ever wanted to do. Stanners grew up in St. Albert, Alberta, near Edmonton. She remembers carrying around a tape recorder to “interview everybody” and talking into her curling iron when a microphone wasn’t nearby.

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At age 19, “I managed to manipulate my way into a radio station,” she says. “I was a sticker spotter in the CISN cruiser. They called me Dusty Rhodes.”

When she found people with the hot lips sticker on their vehicles, she pumped free gas directly from the radio cruiser into their cars – until the fire department found out. “They said it was highly dangerous.”

Her radio name stuck for five years as she learned how to broadcast professionally. She says she was terrible in the beginning.

“I was so horrible,” she laughs. “You are scared and nervous. It’s impossible not to be. Everyone is terrible in the beginning. People forget how to speak naturally.”

She improved rapidly, however, working her way to an on-air latenight gig, then to a better shift and eventually to a competing radio station, where she faltered.

“I was really young and my ego was really big… I ended up getting demoted,” she recalls, as she put more wood on the fire and took another sip of coffee.

Stanners moved along again after being offered a radio job in Vancouver, where she knew she could ski in the afternoons at Cypress Mountain. But in an expensive city with her low salary, her funds became limited; some days she ate only baked potatoes.

Her fortunes turned when she was asked to volunteer on TV for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. Even though she was on air all weekend with no sleep – because she was still on radio for her regular shifts – she dazzled a TV executive who was watching. He offered her a job as co-anchor of CKVU TV news. She was 25 and had no journalism experience.

“I went from having a diet of baked potatoes to living in a penthouse and going to dinner with Izzy Asper. I had a clothing allowance. It was like Cinderella, a crazy-fun time.”

But it was a crash course in journalism as she learned to get her facts straight, delved into world issues and interviewed newsmakers. She recalls talking on air about the Paul Bernardo rape-murder cases and eventually 9/11, the day in 2001 when planes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.

It was around that time when she and her husband, Lorne Badger, had just started raising their young family (they now have five children ages 14 to 34, including two from his previous marriage), and the news events had a severe impact on her.

“It was soul-destroying. It wasn’t something I could separate myself from,” she says. “I thought, Why would we bring someone into this horrible place?”

She leapt back into radio, back to her love of hosting a show and playing music, which also allowed her more time with her children after the 14-hour days in TV.

Eventually, she was laid off as the station could not sell enough advertising, so she devoted her time to the coffee shop she owned with Badger, Eagle Run Coffee Company, now called Bean Brackendale Café. The shop had not been doing well but profits surged once Stanners took charge and began baking and creating a partyland, a hub for the village. She loved her foray into entrepreneurship.

“You can figure it out – it’s giving customers what they want and making them feel good,” she says. “It created a gathering place where everyone was welcome.”

However, she eventually went back into radio and she and Badger sold the coffee shop. At age 50, Stanners still commutes into Vancouver for her job as program director of The Peak radio station and director of The Peak Performance Project, which supports emerging Canadian talent.

She recalls fun moments over her career with big-name stars, including Garth Brooks – “He was so real, so engaging and smart” – and Dolly Parton, who was sweet and empowering. Stanners said Parton told her, “Honey, you don’t even know how much power you have. You can do so much good.”

She has also met Taylor Swift twice backstage with her daughters and praises Swift’s way of making everyone feel special.

In the end, Stanners tells me, no matter what you do, it’s about making others feel special, being positive, and helping people get through their days.

 

Coffee with Christine is a column about Squamish’s most interesting people by Editor Christine Endicott cendicott@squamishchief.com.

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